Friday, July 11, 2008

The Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding



Now that my nursling is almost 2 years old, I raise many eyebrows whenever I raise my blouse to breastfeed. Family and friends have begun to say, "Oh, you're still breastfeeding him?" implying that I should stop already.

This just shows that lay people do not know the benefits of breastfeeding into toddlerhood, also known as "extended breastfeeding".

My own reasons for continuing to breastfeed are quite unscientific. I like being able to comfort Anton easily when he's hurt, cranky or ill. I also think it's great that I can put him to sleep without having to carry him; in fact, I can lie down and doze off myself.

On the other hand, scientific research reveals many benefits of breastfeeding a toddler, such as:

  • Protection From Diseases
Breastmilk continues to provide antibodies against the diseases that the mother has been or is exposed to. As a result, toddlers who are still breastfeeding get sick less often and for shorter periods than their non-nursing peers.

(Goldman AS et al. Immunologic components in human milk during weaning. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Jan;72(1):133-4; Goldman AS, Goldblum RM, Garza C. Immunologic components in human milk during the second year of lactation. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 May;72(3):461-2; Gulick EE. The effects of breastfeeding on toddler health. Pediatr Nurs. 1986 Jan-Feb;12(1):51-4)

  • Increased Protection Against Allergies
Children who were breastfed longer had lower incidence of respiratory allergy than children who were breastfed for a shorter duration or not at all.

(Saarinen UM, Kajosarri M. Breastfeeding as a Prophylactic Against Atopic Disease: Prospective follow-up Study until 17 years old, Lancet 346:1065-1069, 1995.)


  • Higher Intelligence
Studies have shown that children and adults who were breastfed perform better than those who were not breastfed. However, even among those who were breastfed, those who were breastfed for longer durations outperformed those who were breastfed for a shorter period.

(Mortenson EL, MIchaelsen KF, Sanders SA, Reeinisch JM. The association between duration of breastfeeding and adult intelligence. Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287:2365-2371; and Daniels M C, Adair L S. Breast-feeding influences cognitive development of Filipino children. J Nutr. 135: 2589-2595, 2005)

  • Nature
Anthropologist Katherine Detttwyler notes that the normal duration of breastfeeding among primates ranges from 2.5 to 7 years.

(Dettwyler, Katherine PhD. A time to wean. Breastfeeding Abstracts. 14,1: 3-4. 1994)


Clearly, when it comes to breastfeeding, longer is better! So why do
health caregivers and breastfeeding advocates have a difficult time getting mothers to adhere to the minimum recommendation of breastfeeding for one year?

In contrast, milk companies have convinced the public that children need to be drinking formula even after they've started school. Even though the science fully backs extended breastfeeding, it is the milk companies that are touting outrageous unsubstantiated benefits for their follow-on formulas and growing-up milks.

What can we learn from milk companies so that more children will enjoy the benefits of extended breastfeeding?

2 comments:

Al said...

Thanks for using my photo. I was very pleased to see it in the blog dedicated to breastfeeding. My intention to publish this photo was for the same noble cause that is to show the breastfeeding can be fun. My wife will be also very pleased to see it here because she is an absolute advocate of breastfeeding and always try to explain its importance to all her friends who expect or plan to have a child.

Anonymous said...

I don't know anyone who gives their child formula after age 1, but maybe that's a more common practice outside the U.S.

I will say that my older sister and I were breastfeed for 24 and 18 months, respectively, and neither of us gets sick very often.